Merced County Times Newspaper
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Big plans for Merced’s downtown HSR station

High Speed Rail progress in California has had its share of exorbitant costs, troubled construction, and criticism from naysayers; however, planners and proponents continue to push forward with optimism.  

Meanwhile, the City of Merced continues to be at the center of HSR’s statewide universe. 

Earlier in October, the California High Speed Rail Authority and the City of Merced held an informational open house to discuss new designs and a relocation of the city’s planned HSR station from a previously approved site. The meeting at the Merced Senior Community Center was well-attended with dozens of local residents filling up the seats inside the main hall. 

Here are the key things they heard from the HSR representatives who showed up to speak and answer questions. 

  • They are now designing and evaluating environmental impacts for a HSR station on 15th Street, between O and R streets. The previously approved site was located on 15th Street, between G Street and MLK Jr. Way. 
  • The Merced HSR Station would be an elevated “intermodal station” as opposed to a ground-level station. 
  • The station would not only serve HSR, but lines for the future Altamont Corridor Express (ACE) and Amtrak San Joaquins services. Plans include closing the existing Amtrak Station on 24th and K streets, and a new alignment that would divert the Amtrak trains from the Santa Fe tracks near Highway 59 (BNSF tracks) to the tracks downtown. 
  • Merced’s HSR station would provide connectivity with local public transit as well as pedestrian and bicycle access. 
  • The new rail alignment through town would also include an ACE and San Joaquins Layover and Maintenance Facility along Highway 99 frontage at the west end of 16th Street and near Highway 59. This new facility will help add 1,500 local jobs to the overall HSR project. 
  • If funding is secured for the construction of what is being called the Merced Intermodal Track Connection (MITC) Project, final designs are estimated to be completed by December of 2026, and construction would begin in October of 2027, with completion set at September of 2029. They estimate the start of the HSR Merced-Bakersfield Early Operating Segment and MITC operations to begin in 2030.
  • The San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority (SJJPA) would terminate the Amtrak San Joaquins service at the rail hub station in Merced and eliminate service between Merced and Bakersfield. Passenger rail service between Merced and Bakersfield would be replaced by California High-Speed Rail Authority’s (CHSRA) Merced-Bakersfield Early Operating Segment (EOS), which would provide faster, more reliable, and more frequent service than the San Joaquins currently provides. 

During the recent meeting in Merced, the news was generally well-received and the feedback was positive. Among the concerns were traffic congestion and parking availability in the area of the station, the future of the Merced Senior Center and the Boys & Girls Club facilities which are located at the center of the construction plan, and of course, available utilities for the project and surrounding areas, and the overall viability of the statewide project. 

“I’m extremely excited about HSR being a part of Merced’s future and its economic development,” said Mayor Matt Serratto, who attending the meeting. “There will be a ton of advantages and benefits from having a central rail hub in downtown Merced. Billions of dollars will be invested in Merced, and it will create enormous economic activity that will support our long term goals, downtown revitalization, the 16th Street corridor, and perhaps a newly designed west entry into town.”

Serratto cautioned that the HSR project has a long lead in to becoming a reality, and plans are still fluid. He mentioned that the HSR Authority will have to follow the eminent domain process and provide fair market value for properties and facilities that will be removed for the project. Proceeds from that, and grant opportunities, according to the mayor, have the potential of creating improved facilities for the Boys & Girls Club and Senior Center.  

“We will lose a few things, but there is the opportunity for them to be replaced and improved,” he said. 

City officials also noted that the new HSR Station location is closer to City Hall, and all the new Main Street improvements including the Mainzer Theatre and the El Capitan Hotel. 

The next phase of the project will include an environmental review through the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

The SJJPA manages the San Joaquins rail service and is expected to be the Operating Agency for CHSRA’s Merced-Bakersfield EOS. SJJPA and CHSRA will partner to implement the improvements needed for the Merced Intermodal Hub. SJJPA is the lead agency for MITC working in partnership with CHSRA, California State Transportation Agency (CalSTA), Caltrans, Merced County Association of Governments (MCAG) and the City of Merced.

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